Friday, September 30, 2016


Looks like my working from home led me to miss all the fun in Hoboken yesterday.

I went through Hoboken to get to Manhattan for years. On our side of the scenic lower Hudson Valley, you have a choice if you want to take a train to Manhattan: Cross the river by car and pick up a train that goes straight to Midtown, or take a train close to home that goes through New Jersey. Used to be you would have to go through Hoboken, then take the PATH train to Midtown or to downtown; then they opened Secaucus Junction, which offered a transfer direct to Penn Station.

I expect Secaucus is going to get a lot more business starting tomorrow.

It's hard to tell from this or the other pictures, but the tracks are below the platform, and the tracks end in a large springlike cushion that helps stop a train coming in faster than the regulated 10 miles per hour. I can't understand how this happened.

Before the train gets into Hoboken it runs slowly (very slowly, if you have an important meeting first thing in the morning) along a stretch where there is nothing but switches and control towers and stuff that I have no idea what it is. There is no way that this train blew into the station without being seen moving too fast. Was there was warning? Did someone announce on the PA at Hoboken, "Get the hell away from Track Two!" Not from what I've heard.

But didn't the engineer know what was happening, and call in "Hey, I can't stop!"? He was treated at the hospital and released, so it wasn't apparently a terroristic action. Those guys usually make sure they get killed along with a lot of people. (I admit it was my first thought when I heard the news.)

So there's a million questions right now and very few answers. I feel terrible for everyone involved, from the woman who was killed to the many who were injured to those who are just going to be terribly inconvenienced. There's no way into town that is not jam-packed at rush hour, and when something happens that disrupts one of the travel methods it makes the others more miserable for everybody.

For the record, the train that crashed was on the Pascack Valley Line, which is not the one I took. But the woman who was killed was not actually on the train, but on the platform. Hoboken Terminal averages 15,101 passenger boardings each weekday, and everyone I know up here who's taken the train has been through that terminal. I guess it could have been me, but as always, it could have been anybody.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Yoga Fred.

I've done some stretches in my time--poorly--but I don't think yoga is for me. First of all, it seems to require a level of flexibility that my people simply do not have, that level being "any." If I tried, say, the Pendant Pose, I would definitely be putting the LOL in Lolasana.

Second, there's the whole cultural appropriation stuff, and as I would naturally wish to do yoga while wearing a sombrero and cooking pho, it just seems like inviting trouble.

Nonetheless, I'm amazed by the wide variety of impossible poses, postures, and whatnot available to the yoga devota, and their incredible mouth-bending names. Like:

Adho Mukha Vrksasana
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana
Salamba Sarvangasana
Triang Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana

I think a Venn diagram would show that many of the people who know what these are would be the same as the people who tell you never to eat something you can't pronounce. But it's okay to do something you can't pronounce? I call shenanigans!

There are a handful of poses I think I might be able to do, as follows:

Three point stance while holding your Venus

Pick up phone firmly in one hand; call broker

Roseanne Rosannadannasana
Frequent hand gestures required
Seated position, elbow bent

Downward Facing Sickasa Dog
Follows Alabamaslammasana

Advilo Mukha Vrksasana
What people like me would need after trying yoga

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Autumn arrives, autumn leaves.

Well, folks, I'm having to wear a jacket now when I take out the dogs in the morning and when I take them back out at night. So it must really be autumn now. Let's have a look at the homestead:

The apples and pumpkins sure are looking fine. Been meaning to get some of that ivy off the house. Maybe in the spring. Little Johnny's getting pretty fat, I'm afraid. Loves to eat them apples. Farts like a carthorse.

Now that it's officially the fall, it is safe for Dunkin' Donuts to do that pumpkin spice crap. Sure, and everyone else too. I would have preferred they waited until October, but this is close enough. You'll have no more fight from me, people. But no peppermint until after Thanksgiving or there'll be trouble.

The sun is running away like a terrified rabbit now, and it's darker now at night than it was in the spring when the day was exactly the same length. Or so it seems to my eyes. The preponderance of daylight in the summer makes its absence in the fall that much greater.

All these thoughts get me thinking about the things I have not done in the years since I left the city to be a prince of suburbia: no corn mazes, apple picking, pumpkin picking; no apple festivals, harvest festivals; no bobbing for apples, hayrides, special leaf-peeking trips. Not that these things don't happen; I just haven't had the huge need to get around to them. On the other hand, I haven't found it necessary to rake, either. Since I don't have a lot of trees I can just mulch the ones that fall with my lawn mower. And I eat Halloween candy. So there's that.

I love autumn, even though I don't do anything special for it. Autumn is like a great old friend who comes to visit, to cheer you up if you miss summer, and you're so happy to see him, and you kind of feel like you've been freed from the heat of summer as if it had been an onerous responsibility. By the time Autumn leaves, the place is a wreck and all the food is gone.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Shaving with broken glass.

A friend of mine told me to enjoy the debates yesterday. I told him I would rather shave with broken glass, and I meant it. I still would.

It's not like the candidates are mysterious creatures we don't know. Unless you've been shirking your civic duty, you know these two knuckleheads all too well. You may have had trouble a few months ago figuring out which is more corrupt, but we have a pretty good idea now.

I suppose people watch these things to see if someone lands a good one-liner like Reagan's famous youth and inexperience gag. But really, politicians are a mostly creepy bunch, and tuning into these things just encourages them. Does anyone expect to get a solid explanation of policy proposals, or even a graspable statement of principles? No, they're hoping for zingers, maybe fistfights. Maybe a dodgeball game will break out. Maybe someone will have a massive stroke. Wouldn't that be fun?

This is insanity.

Mister, we could use a man like William McKinley again.

His famous "front porch campaign" of 1896 was brilliant. He wasn't the first to run such a presidential campaign, but he was probably the best at it. Wikipedia notes that "McKinley spoke to more than 700,000 supporters in front of his house in Canton." It brought huge publicity, it made him look presidential, and it was easy on him. He was a big guy.

You can't see that face engaged in shenanigans, can you?

Do I wish modern presidential campaigns were run this way? Hell yeah. Do I think it would work? No. Do I care? No. The modern campaign is all about messaging, but the message they generally have is "My opponent has the heart of Satan and a massive turd where his/her brain should be."

At least if they stayed home to campaign we could ignore it.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Fred's diet tips.

Everyone knows that Fred is in awesome shape, if you like round. And I'm not one to hoard all this good health to myself. I'm pleased, therefore, to share with you my diet tips for healthy Fredlike living. 

* A lot of people like the Paleo diet, where you eat like a caveman, but I think it's nuts. Have you seen the size of the brontosaurus ribs Fred Flintstone eats? No wonder he's fat. If you really want to lose weight, do the Ice Age diet. Eat lots of ice. 

* If you haven't seen your kneecaps since Britney Spears was a Mouseketeer, you may wish to leggo the Eggo once in a while. 

* Exercise outside and get fresh air and sunshine. Fresh air is full of pollen, though, and sunshine will give you melanoma. On second thought, forget it. 

* Vegetarians are people who eat lots of vegetables. Vegans are people who eat lots of vega. Since there's no such thing as vega, they are hungry and mad most of the time. Eat meat and save yourself the worries.

Fish is healthy, but frying it is bad. Try broiling it instead.
* Don't rely on crash diets to take down your weight. Teddy bears don't eat and they're all chubby.

* Organic food is supposed to be healthier, so you can eat twice as many calories if they're organic. Or something.

* If you were the kind of kid who would eat a bug for a dollar, remember that bugs are mostly protein. Look into restarting this as a home business. Not only are people paying for your meals, but you're turning a tidy profit, and you're ridding the word of icky bugs at the same time. But don't sell yourself short: set up a sliding scale based on how gross each bug is. Pro tip: Even if you get a good offer, don't eat boogers, yours or anyone else's.

* People say foods like Twinkies and Pop-Tarts are garbage, but it's clear that raccoons, seagulls, and crows live perfectly well on garbage. Go ahead and eat them.

* Beer-braised short ribs: good. Beer-braised corn flakes: less good.

* A lady I know has lost a significant amount of weight since her daughter and granddaughter moved in. She says it's from chasing the kid. This is a good plan, and if you have no grandchild handy, get two active dogs. I haven't sat down since July.

* If you do somehow gain possession of a puppy or a small child or something else that needs a lot of sleep, you will immediately discover that every pot, pan, plate, and cooking utensil in your house is, at the slightest touch, as loud as a brass band falling down a staircase. Screw it; order in.

* Actual tip: A former coworker, when needing to drop five pounds in a hurry, would go on the pizza diet. One unadorned slice for each meal for a week. No pepperoni, sausage, anything. Flat Neapolitan style, of course, not Sicilian. She claimed it worked fine, and I'd guess it stopped all pizza cravings for months afterward.

* Do not count on the dog to eat your kale for you. He's looking at your ice cream.

* Is your doctor fatter than you are? Then you must be okay.

* If not, you can join one of those programs where they bring you all the food you're allowed to eat, easily heated and consumed. I have known several guys who have followed these programs, with really dramatic results. And every single one of them without exception put it all back on and more as soon as they went off the diet.

* To hell with it. I'm going for a Philly cheesesteak and fries. Get in the car.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The romance writer at home.

{NB: For the record, while I've worked on romance novels G- to R-rated, I've never tried to write one. I just always imagined the authors looking like this. --FK}

Friday, September 23, 2016

The dish.

A first look at this sad gift for the garbagemen might make you think that DirecTV is heading for the ash heap of history.

Which was my first thought. If people are just heaving satellite dishes around, what can that mean for the company? The evidence is clear: DirecTV is doomed.

Then I looked up at the house and saw a big new dish where the old dish used to be.

Couldn't see if it was a DirecTV dish, but who else does them? But if it was DirecTV, why didn't they take the old dish with them, rather than let the logo be seen with the trash like a bum in the gutter?

In any event, even if this were to have been a discarded and despised dish of disgust, it would have been no evidence that the company that made it was going bust. One household switched to cable; so what? And yet we have the tendency to rely heavily on tiny doses of anecdotal evidence like that, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Joey down the block says marijuana never hurt him. My cousin thinks Disney World is reasonably priced and hassle-free. Alice at the office says Hillary Clinton is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being she's ever known in her life. 

It's not that these opinions aren't true, or have no basis in fact---well, maybe they don't, but that's beside the point. It's that Joey, your cousin, Alice at the office, me, and you, individually these opinions are statistically insignificant. We may tend to give them more weight because the person involved has earned it somehow, like when Oprah recommends a book ("Oooh! I love the same books she does!"), or because Joey got a lot of street cred because he can eat more Cheetos in one sitting than any other human being alive, or because Matt Damon.... You know what? There's no reason to pay attention to Matt Damon.

This is why we're supposed to use argument and reason to support our judgments, because feelings aren't facts. But there is so much noise, so much spin, so much cherry-picking of data, so much anecdotal evidence, that even things that look like arguments are no more than opinion, chatter, a salesman's pitch. Feelings have supplanted reason as we are told to trust our instincts, go with our gut. As if our guts are infallible lie detectors.

Was there ever a time when masses of people could be swayed by genuine logic? I don't think so. Evidence, maybe, but as we've seen, evidence itself can be misleading, subject to wishful thinking, statistically insignificant. One swallow does not a summer make.

But don't take my word for it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fred's Foto Funeral.

There comes a time in your adult life where you suddenly realize you're going to more funerals and wakes than to weddings and baby showers. If the funerals and wakes are all for people your age or younger, then you've really hit a milestone. But no, in middle age your friends are settled in; then elderly relatives and those of friends start to pass into the great beyond. So, you go to a lot of funerals and wakes.

You almost never go to a wake anymore that they don't have a collection of photos of the deceased, enjoying life and not being deceased. They may be posted on boards or displayed on a video loop, but it usually is put together with the idea of giving a measure of the deceased's life. And that's nice. Also very interesting, if you only knew the person as an old-timer.

"Wow! He looked like that when he was young?"

"Wow! He was actually young?"

"Wow! They had cameras then?"

My feeling is, we're all gonna go sometime---why wait? I mean, why wait to pick the photos you want shown. Not why wait to die. I can wait to die. Taking care of my photo selection is one less thing for my loved ones to organize, assuming I don't outlive them all.

So here's some preliminary selections from my album, just to give you a taste of what you'll see at my sendoff---we're going to put the fun back in funeral.
As a baby, I was a well-known nudist in the neighborhood.

Yeah, on the sand in my disco days. Gosh, if those beach blankets could talk...
Never did find a mustache that really worked for me.
Macy's, getting ready for Black Friday. 

I forgot about the Fred Fro! The ladies all went wild. Not pleased, just wild.

My agent was happy about my first nonfiction title.
Went on TV to plug it...
The balloon didn't generate sales the way we'd hoped.
Finally, what we hope will be the ultimate Fred destination. Lemme in, Pete!

Say, I just realized there's no pictures of loved ones with me in these shots. What could that mean?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Objet d'arf.

The little pup is doing better today following Sunday night's diarrhea panorama, thanks for the kind thoughts and notes. The vet didn't find anything too awful, nothing that had to be removed except some more money from my wallet, nothing that a good puppy antibiotic wouldn't eventually help. So our little guy is getting better, but it's taking longer than I might have hoped. He did sleep through Monday night, which was a minor miracle.

When your beloved woofy needs something, you immediately think of the vet or the store. Since he was really sick, the vet was the only choice; you lose a lot of options when the patient can't tell you what hurts where and when it started.

Our local PetSmart has a couple of aisles of stuff that can be used for you to play home vet. When Tralfaz was a puppy he really enjoyed eating his own poop, which I wanted to discourage as quickly as possible. For a brief time he was on a mission of coprophagia; if some of his product had not been picked up yet from the previous visit, it was Snack City! So I tried a chewable tablet that was supposed to discourage that behavior.

It worked brilliantly. Too much so, in fact. He would bolt from his own feces after that, taking off like a rocket when it was deposited, and it appeared that that caused him to stop expressing himself. If your dog has done this, you know how unpleasant it is. When I stopped giving him the tablets, he rediscovered self-expression. Fortunately he had pretty much outgrown the poop cuisine by then.

Dog products are always hit-and-miss, often because of your particular circumstance. We got one of those superlong training leashes for the big guy at one point, and when we weren't using it anymore for training we left it tied to the porch for those times he would be out there on his own. One day, in fact, I left the big galoot out there for a few minutes while I tended to a quick errand up the block. When he saw me coming down the driveway, he bolted off the porch with excitement. Then this happened:

When the clip snapped like that and half of it went flying---the rest of it has never been found---we both just stopped and looked at each other, like "Whuuuuuuh?" So I was able to corral him.

Interesting that the fabric and the stitching proved tougher than the metal.

Another item we got because of the dogs was this:

The Dog Gone Smart runner is designed to soak up water from your soggy doggy and protect your floors. It is the most incredible product I have ever seen at soaking up moisture. It works exactly as advertised.

However, in its standard usage it gets really dirty, even more so when someone in the house who shall remain nameless (Nipper) has a massive case of diarrhea and lets it fly on the mat while on the way to the front door. The runner is machine washable---although in case of poop you're gonna want to hose it off first---and the problem is all that water it soaks up. It claims to absorb up to 15 times its own weight in water, and I believe it. It weighs four pounds dry. After it gets through the washing machine it is about 60 sopping pounds---the spin cycle does nothing to get the water out, or very close to nothing, and even our heavy-duty washer goes wobbly with that kind of weight in it. You have to hang it to dry; you couldn't put it in the dryer in this shape anyway, even if your dryer can handle a load that heavy. And it does not lose all that moisture quickly. A simple clothesline may not be strong enough. And it's been raining a lot here.

The runner does exactly as it is said to do, but it is not easy to clean in my experience.

So these are some things we have found that are effective, but not without comical drawbacks. Poor puppies! How do they survive our attempts to help?!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Every day the Merriam-Webster site has a different Word of the Day. I often am familiar with the word, being in the word game myself, but of yesterday's I had never heard. Eclogue was the word, meaning "a poem in which shepherds converse."

The dictionary site goes on to explain these pastoral poems, of Greek and Roman origin, thus: "the eclogue traditionally depicted rural life as free from the complexity and corruption of more citified realms. The poets of the Romantic period rebelled against the artificiality of the older pastoral, and the eclogue fell out of favor."

Well, I for one think it's high time we brought back the eclogue. Why wouldn't we want to hear more from our shepherds? God knows we hear more than enough from everyone else. Politicians? Too much. Celebrities? Way too much. It's just blah blah blah all the time. I want to hear less blah and more ba-a-a.

Since I don't know any shepherds personally, I thought I'd just make up my own eclogue for your reading pleasure. Just trying to get the ball rolling, as it were. The problem is that since I don't know any shepherds, I don't know what they talk about. Wolves? The weather? Brucellosis? Self-employment tax?

So my first attempt turned out to be weak; it did not even have any dialogue:
There once was a girl named Bo Peep
Inordinately fond of her sheep
While out camping in tents
(Not in Biblical sense)
She would bring several over to sleep
I rolled up my sleeves and knuckled down for my second attempt. This was better, as it had dialogue and romance, but there's just one shepherd. 

"Sheep, With Me"

by Frederick Key

Young Shepherd Brown was just hanging around
Doing all the stuff shepherds must do
When down from the hill came a lassie named Jill
From the shop where she bought gum to chew

Jill cried out “A crook!” but he said, “I’m no schnook!”
She explained, “I meant that which you bear.”
“It’s for hooking my sheep; my job is to keep
All these fluffy chaps under my care.”

He said, “You’re adorable!” She said, “They’re deplorable!
Those animals send up a stink! 
They smell worse than a pig! They’re so woolly and big!”
He said, “Yeah, but in the rain they all shrink.”

Then a goatherd named Paul who was handsome and tall
Came along with his cheerful goat flock 
Paul said, “Hi there, toots! Ain’t my goats got the cutes?
There’s no question that goats really rock.”

Jill, looking quite pumped, admired the jump
In the goats’ cheerful little-goat prance
But Brown, feeling quite ill, said, “Lookie here, Jill!
All I’m saying is give sheep a chance!”

But Jill coddled and oohed and petted and cooed
It looked like a pastoral goat painting
So Brown started to plot, as he thought that Paul got
Those cute little goats best known for fainting

At a signal from Brown his sheep started to drown
Out the cooing with horrible shouts
In an instant, pell-mell, all the fainting goats fell
Every goat was completely knocked out

Brown cried out, “They’re dead! It’s all his fault!” he said
“That guy is a terrible herder!”
But Jill shouted, “No joke! Your sheep made them all croak! 
I believe you’re the one that caused murder!”

Then Jill, clinging to Paul, continued to bawl
As they left Shepherd Brown with his horde
Jill and Paul ran away and eloped later that day
And pledged fealty until they got bored

Though poor Brown’s heart was hurt, he learned best not to flirt
With a woman who disliked his sheep
With this sad abjuration there came one consolation 
It was all of Paul’s goats he would keep

Moral: Two goats in the hand are worth a bird in a bush.

I don't know; maybe I just don't understand sheep.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Running dogs.

What's more fun than a dog with diarrhea?

Two dogs with diarrhea!

How do you have a real busy Sunday?

Keep on the run with doggies!

Actually, the big dog, Tralfaz, has only had minor upset and one or two extra poops. The little guy, Nipper, really got it bad.

All Sunday afternoon we had repeated trips outside for diarrhea, starting with one jaunt that didn't quite make it out the door. It petered out after a while, but following dinner it all started up again. My wife gave him some rice to try to get it under control, and after a few more emergency trips, it seemed to have subsided. Still, rather than get him upstairs to the crate where he sleeps at night, I suggested it would be easier if he stayed in his pen downstairs. I could sleep on the couch and haul his butt out fast as need be.

We sacked out, everyone wiped out, at ten.

At 11:32 p.m., Nipper was hammering on the pen wall. Out in time for poop.

At 12:58 a.m., repeat performance.

At 2:32 a.m., the championship round: Rice being heaved up inside the pen. However small your puppy is, I have found, when he heaves he makes noises like Fred Mertz coming off a bender. Quickly got up, sent him into the hall, grabbed for the paper towels and Clorox wipes. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, Nipper was showering the hall with diarrhea.

Sorry, were you eating breakfast?

It has been a long night.

As I write this is it a quarter after five, and I have not been back to sleep since the 2:32 crescendo. All's been quiet for a couple of hours, though; I think I'll give it a shot. My wife has graciously arisen early to take over, and it'll be on to the vet later.

Have a nice Monday! Mine's off to a bang!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Party / No Party.

Week 2 of NFL football, and so far my Giants haven't lost! Cowboys fans like the jerk on my block may say that the Boys gave last week's game away to the G-Men, with some boneheaded plays, especially at the end. To which I say: I don't care. You had 60 minutes to win at home and you lost. On opening day. Which the Cowboys had not done to the Giants ever before.

Not quite sure how we have this stupid rivalry with an expansion club, anyway. 

But I'm not here to talk about the actual games, although with the Giants 1-0, the Mets in good position for a playoff spot, and locally, Army 3-0 for the first time in twenty years,* it's tempting. No, my concern is the gatherings you will have today, and what you will serve. If more than one is gathered for football, than it is... Party!

Who looks at the bags of snacks and says, "No, my friends and I are not party animals. I shall buy the small bag." No; if you have people coming and you're buying snacks, you say, "We are not a bunch of losers! We shall require the Party Size snacks!" I'm impressed that even Smartfood has gotten into it. Even smarties know that you need to buy the Party Size! 

If you do plan to watch the game alone, and you are buying snacks of an appropriate size, you are thus condemned to feel like a loser. They should label the small bag "Loser Size." I could send one to the Cowboys fan next door.

Speaking of losers, you may have heard that the retailer Target, having been run out of the mean streets of Canada like a whipped dog, is now failing to make sales projections and is looking grim. A nearby Target has been looking pretty sad, with empty shelves and weary staff. Last year Target cut thousands of workers. And this year it got hit with a boycott that, unlike most boycotts, actually seemed to have hurt sales, over their bizarre attempt to jump on the political correctness bandwagon

But frankly, something else is killing Target, and it's this:

What the hell is this? Cake mix? Scone mix? I've seen happier looking packages of rat poison. What do they think they're doing? To whom do they think this overpriced ($4.99!) box of flour is supposed to appeal? It may be wonderful stuff, but when you look at something in the market and it makes you think of the Joads, are you really moving the goods? 

You don't even have to slap the "Loser" label on this stuff. 

But I suspect few football fans are interested in scones for their get-togethers. So perhaps it doesn't matter. Still, Target had better pull up its socks and get to work. And I hope whomever you're rooting for today will do the same. 

Unless it's a team in the NFC East that is not the Giants, or the Saints, whom we play today. 

It's nothing personal. Just football. 

Okay, with the Cowboys, it's personal, but we don't see them again until December.


* Army will be a powerhouse team again when we reinstate the draft. If you ask some of the locals around here they'd say it's worth it. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Free wheeling.

Awesome news: I paid off my car!

After all these years, it is mine, all mine!

Which came like an early Christmas present, because I thought I had a few more months to go!


And look at this beauty; it's as gorgeous as the day I drove it off the lot with my brother!

Yes indeedy! Now I have a big problem -- what am I gonna do with an extra forty bucks a month, huh? Heh heh heh.

Heh heh [wipes eyes]. No, seriously, folks, I really did pay off the car a little earlier than I had expected. I assumed there had been a mistake when the last bill was lower than it had been the previous 865 months, and then when I got a refund for 31 cents (really!) I figured I had made the mistake. Then the deed came. We done paid off the ranch, maw!

This is the third car in my name that my wife and I have paid off from new-off-the-lot, plus two more cars in her name. That makes me responsible! That makes me pragmatic! That makes me old!

Seriously, each car had a five or more year payment plan, followed by me driving it until it was a sad and sorry husk or a wrecked piece of roadkill. So while I was putting a lot of miles on them, I was putting even more miles on me.

I guess it's all right -- and I suppose it helps my credit rating. I'll be able to get loans when I'm 105. So I got that going for me.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


In another episode of "What You're Doing Wrong (But I Mean THEM, Not You)," there is the issue of people naming girls Brooklyn. Have any of these folks ever seen Brooklyn? Seen much of the great and appalling variety Brooklyn has to offer? At best it might be the equivalent of naming the kid Pizza. People like Pizza, but everyone has different ideas about it.

Place names make lousy names anyway, unless they are also name names. Like, you could name your kid after Lincoln, Nebraska, but they'd think you named him for the president; no one would know. Unless you made his middle name Nebraska. Which would be silly, but I'd applaud it. Especially if your last name was Towncar.

Lincoln N. Towncar, Attorney at Law -- has a nice ring.

A lot of my family members grew up on Brooklyn. Not all of us. None of us made it to Manhattan as a residence, but we polluted the outer boroughs pretty well. And all of us can speak a fluent Brooklynese.

But even there, you have so much variation among Brooklyn neighborhoods that it's hard to say there is a genuine Brooklyn accent anymore. African American dialects predominate in some areas; Spanish (and Spanglish) in others; Yiddish is still very popular; Italian neighborhoods speak STFU; Korean is heard in former Irish/Scandahoovian strongholds. In Park Slope they speak Pretentious Yoyo, which is known in most major Western cities but not in every area of the borough itself.

An elderly acquaintance of mine grew up in the Bushwick section. He likes to say, in all sincerity, "If you should ever have an opportunity to go to Bushwick, you should decline as quickly and as forcibly as possible."

But most people who grew up in Brooklyn have a strong, almost unreasonable attraction to the place. And many, many people grow up there; Kings County is the most populous county in New York State, more so even than New York County (which is Manhattan). If the five boroughs had not come together to form a unified city, Brooklyn would rank as the third largest city in America, after Los Angeles and Chicago.

I'm not saying that there is not a lot to love about Brooklyn. I believe those who tell me there is. The thing is that if you're going to name your kid after a place, you can't have just been there. You can't even have just lived there. You have to have grown up there, and not as a child of privilege. You don't have to be Francie Nolan, but you can't have an experience of a place if someone's greasing the skids for you, or is waiting in the wings to pull you out if you get jammed up. You need to have the experience of growing a life there. If you have not seen a place in those conditions and love it anyway, it's not love; it's only like.

Like is fine for Facebook. It's a lousy basis for the name of a child.

I do see the appeal of the name Brooklyn; it combines two popular girls' names (Brooke, Lynne), and its Dutch roots as Broken Land are sooo drama. But everyone's going to think of the borough.

On the other hand, there are plenty of perfectly pleasant places that would make terrible names for your baby, even if you grew up there, even if you loved it. Places like:

Loon Lake, Washington
Intercourse, Pennsylvania
Hell, Norway
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales

Just don't do it. Think of the children!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


It started at some point in the 1990s. Just a few people were doing it. I didn't see the harm. I thought it was silly, sure, but I didn't think it would become widespread. I thought people were more sensible than that. I thought that civilization was strong enough in our culture to help people resist the urge to fall into error.

I was wrong.

It has become a commonplace to pluralize "RBI" as "RBI." Not "RBIs," as Webster's prefers and God intended.

Some people point out that the R in RBI stands for Run (run batted in), and note that the plural of the spelled-out version is "runs batter in" not "run batted ins." And the abbreviation for that would be RBI. This is mistaken for cleverness.

Yoenis Cespedes had more RBIs than letters by April 26 of the 2016 season.
These people are sadly, painfully wrong, and they are growing in number daily. But that doesn't make them any more right. Allow me to explain.

1) An initialism, like an acronym, is treated as a word on its own, generally a noun. To follow their logic, you would have to refer to an RBI as "a RBI," since you wouldn't call it "an run batted in." But since RBI is treated as a word, it starts with a vowel sound (ArrBeeEye) and therefore gets an An.

2) These folks have no problem using CDs as the plural for CD (compact disc), and that is correct. And yet I do not hear them complaining about CDs for certificates of deposit, although this is standard nomenclature for banks and beyond. A banker who walked around bragging about the number of CD he had sold would be considered a dumbbell. (See also: POWs, MREs.)

3) "RBIs" had been pluralized this way since 1948. The New York Times used it at least as far back as 1950. I'll grant you that popularity and longevity doesn't equal quality---look at Madonna---but in the case of language, persistence of usage is all there is. That's how "scarf down" became accepted for eating a lot, although it was an erroneous substitution for "scoff down." So even if you don't like RBIs, there's justification for it based on tradition. If you felt vindicated because you used "enormity" to mean "great size" and not "great evil" and you were corrected but then Webster's said it was okay, then you have to concede the importance of usage and convention. (And on that note, I acknowledge that pounds per square inch is always singular, PSI; very few people say "32 PSIs"--but that's an engineering outlier. STEM have their own conventions.)

4) People who would allow the use of the S for something like DVDs, where the last word (disc) is the pluralized one, would have to refer to RBIs as RsBI. Why change the rule of pluralization depending on where the noun is in the initialism? Or they could just make all initialisms plural without an S (1 DVD, 2 DVD); good luck getting that accepted.

That's my blow for the proper use of language for the day. Now, mind your P's and Q's out there, kids.

P.S.: "Ribbies" is fine if you like sounding stupid.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Free stupid pills!

Ever have one of those food runs?

Due to a collusion of events, not all of them dog-related, we ran out of time to cook dinner. My wife suggested takeout. Let's try someplace new! Okay!

And thus I entered into a realm of stupidity.

Everyone was driving like a guy with two DWIs on his record, while texting---either painfully slow or coppers-can't-catch-me reckless; either crawling at 15 or buzzing through other people's right of ways, but careening from side to side regardless. Someone had opened the asylum gates and handed out car keys.

Had to stop at the bank to deposit a check and get some cash, and the drive-up ATM had two cars on line. One does not often see people who have never used an ATM before, let alone two in the same line, but I was fortunate enough to witness this discovery of the new frontier, this end of innocence. Meanwhile, my food was somewhere, growing cold.

Later at the restaurant: two managers are yakking with a drunk guy at the bar. A third guy comes out of the kitchen and starts in. I alerted them that I was there for a pickup. My food was three feet away. I was acknowledged, but no word was said to assure me that help was forthcoming. Apparently union rules forbade any of these three idiots from helping me.

Finally a woman comes out of the kitchen and rings me up. Over the register is a sign that says, "You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Work Here. We'll Train You!" Yeah, well, mission accomplished.

In Regular, Extra Strength, Prescription Strength, and Moron.

It wasn't my last stop before heading home, but trust me when I tell you that the fun and games continued. I really think CVS and Rite Aid were handing out free samples of stupid pills. People will take anything if it's free.

I have not ventured out yet today, but I can only hope that the effects of the stupid medication have worn off. If not, perhaps I could get some. Or maybe I already have! After all, if I had been sharp yesterday, I might have prevented the time crunch that resulted in having to pick up dinner.

See the happy moron,
He doesn’t give a damn,
I wish I were a moron,
My God! perhaps I am!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Batman and Bunny.

Bunny: Boy, wasn't that something, Batman? I would never have expected to see Calendar Man and Clock King team up. But we got 'em good!

Batman: Yes.

Bunny: Did you see that flying kick I did on the henchmen? I knocked down four at once! Pow!

Batman: I sure did. Classic Bunny.

Bunny: Aw, thanks, Batman. What's next? Do we look for their lair, see if there's any more to this?

Batman: No, Bunny, I... I'd just like to speak with you for a minute.

Bunny: Uh... Yeah?

Batman: I-- Well, I want to say, I think you're a terrific crime fighter.

Bunny: Hey, thanks.

Batman: I'm serious. Your speed, your quick thinking, your superhuman leaping and kicking...

Bunny: And the nibbling! Remember when I nibbled you out of that cage when Dr. Double X trapped you?

Batman: Of course! It was our first meeting.

Bunny: And now we have the bad guys in Gotham on the run!

Batman: That's what I wanted to talk about... the "we" thing.

Bunny: Huh?

Batman: I think it's time-- That is, I think I need to go it alone again.

Bunny: But we're a team!

Batman: Yeah, well, see, I don't do the team thing well.

Bunny: Oh. Like the Justice League, the Outsiders, the various Robins and Batgirl, Superman, the Super Friends...

Batman: Ouch. Sore point.

Bunny: Sorry.

Batman: It's just--- Look, you're a giant fluffy anthropomorphic pink and yellow bunny rabbit.

Bunny: I am what I am.

Batman: It's just hard to be a grim avenger of the night with a big bunny rabbit next to me.

Bunny: So you're upset about your image!

Batman: Nooooooooyeah.

Bunny: I can be grim!

Batman: Cannot.

Bunny: Sure! I'll get a cape! They'll call me... Dark Bunny.

Batman: I'm sorry, Bunny. No.

Bunny: Great. I just got fired by Batman.

Batman: Bunny, look... Let me get in touch with Wonder Woman. She has lots of experience with mythical creatures and exotic animals...

Bunny: Is that some kind of a crack?

Batman: I think she's more partner material for you.

Bunny: And because she's a girl, she'll like the big bunny.

Batman: Kinda.

Bunny: All right, I'm outta here. You fight Killer Moth on your own next time.

Batman: Now, no pouting, Bunny. We talked about this. There's no pouting in crime fighting.

Bunny: I'll pout if I want to! You're not the pointy-eared boss of me anymore, pal.

Batman: I'm sorry, Bunny. I'll be glad to write you a recommendation.

Bunny: Sure, fine. I was thinking about going to New York anyway. A guy out there was looking for help.

Batman: Well... that's great. Good luck in the Big Apple.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Down through the years.

A fellow I know, a retired handyman who knows that I edit books and write things to make my living (such as it is), asked me a favor that everyone dreads, not just publishing people:

Would I look at a stack of poems he wrote? 

Oh, boy. 

What do you say? 

Most poetry is pretty bad. I ought to know, having written a few rivers of bad poetry myself. And I cautioned him right up top that I am not a poet except for some light doggerel, have worked on very few volumes of poetry, and that everything I know about the field says that unless your name is Maya Angelou you can't make a nickel on poetry, and she's dead. No agent, no publisher wants to look at poetry because no one reads it anymore. More people actually write it than read it, weird as that is to believe, but it's true; people who write it sometimes have little interest in anyone else's work. Poetry is not the neglected cul-de-sac of the book world; it is a neglected cul-de-sac that burned down, fell over in an earthquake, and got washed away by a flood so long ago that people have even forgotten it was ever there, or would care if they remembered. Poetry is a discipline of language, and a slovenly culture cannot endure it. Most of the time, neither can I. 

But this man once did me a favor that may have saved my life, more than a decade ago. It was a small act of kindness perhaps to him, but it has meant the world to me ever since. And this man began writing when his child died, not too long ago.

His child was not a victim of a terrorist attack, just a victim of a dread disease. But on this day, fifteen years on, so many others are remembering their children who were killed, and their parents, and their wives, and their husbands. 

This year I'm not thinking about the conspiracy cranks, or the many ways that memories of the day sneak up and devour my heart again and again. 

This year I'm thinking about Pat Flounders. Pat would have been 65 today. But in December 2001, she put a gun to her head and ended her life. 

Her husband had died three months earlier, having stayed behind on the 84th floor of the South Tower to try to help a coworker escape. 

Similarly, the husband of Prasanna Kalahasthi, Vamsi, was on American Airlines Flight 11 that murderous morning. "I'll be there before lunchtime," he told his wife on the phone before he left. In October 2001, Prasanna hanged herself with a nylon rope. 

September is not just the month of Patriot Day, of our remembrance. It is also Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

What do you say? You say yes. Of course I'll read your poems. (Which actually may turn out to be very good, like my friend's.) You say of course I've got time to talk. You follow tips like these. You can show your love as well as tell it. 

It may not be enough. Sometimes nothing can be enough. But we can try and we can hope.

Saturday, September 10, 2016


I remember when I was a kid and visiting a friend's house, and his mother made me a sandwich at lunchtime using Miracle Whip instead of mayonnaise. I mean, we knew they were weird, but not THAT weird.

We were mayo people, though, so while I found it a refreshing change, I generally stuck to mayo, and just enough to moisten the bread at that. Later I was exposed to Miracle Whip in the means by which it was originally intended, as a dressing for a large salad. I was surprised to find it good, but still didn't buy it, didn't get Whiplash, if you will.

Then I married a Miracle Whipicionado, a big fan of the stuff, for use on sandwiches of all sorts. Mostly, though, she loved it for potato salad. I, too, became a fan of Miracle Whip potato salad, as M.W. with celery, tasty little potatoes, and onions made a delightful side dish. We made a big pot of it at least once every summer.

But it all began to go wrong.

Horribly wrong.

At first we blamed ourselves. Too much salt. Not enough pepper. Potatoes were so-so. Celery was woody, hard. Onion too potent. Something was wrong.

Same thing happened next time.

And next.

And next.

Then my wife realized that the cold cut malaise her sandwiches had been suffering from had one key element in common with the potato salad---the Miracle Whip.

But Kraft had been making the stuff since 1933. Surely, no one there would be stupid enough to change the formula.

Oh, yes. Yes they did.

Kraft claims that the change came in 2006, that the price of raw materials had risen but the price their retailers would allow them to sell the stuff for had not, and so Kraft had no choice but to ruin the product.

The thing is, we didn't notice the change for a while after that, so I suspect that Kraft, having found its principles easy enough to sell, found it easier and cheaper next time. I put it to you that Miracle Whip, having been cheapened once, has been cheapened again, and now it bears little resemblance to the proud condiment of yore. Their claim that Walmart made them ruin Miracle Whip doesn't hold water. They're saying that M.W. survived World War II, the recessions of the seventies and eighties, riots and the Cold War, and in 2006 they had to change it because what? The price of high fructose corn syrup went up? Stargate SG-1 got canceled? Don Knotts died? What?

Sounds like bullwhip to me.

Shame on you, Kraft! Shame! 

What else are you NOT telling us, Kraft?

Are Jet-Puffed marshmallows being puffed up with Styrofoam now? Is Planters going to substitute circus peanuts for peanuts? Is Grey Poupon no longer being exchanged between plutocrats in limos, but by homies in hoopty wagons?

Kraft and Heinz have merged, have closed seven plants and laid off thousands of workers, and despite all this Kraft won't wise up and give the people what they want. They want to increase profitability at the cost of being able to create, manufacture, aspire---you might even say craft fine products.

You get the feeling the joint is being run by jerks and meatheads?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Could be special charges for me!

Saw the news yesterday that 5,300 Wells Fargo employees---or about two percent of the entire company's workforce---were fired for opening millions of phony accounts for their customers. These were used to make the employees look productive. CNN reports that "Employees went so far as to create phony PIN numbers and fake email addresses to enroll customers in online banking services, the CFPB said."

I don't know if it's CNN or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that does not know that the N in PIN stands for Number, but it appears not to have been the CFPB, so it must have been geniuses at CNN. Never mind about that now.

Anyway, just how bad was this scandal?

The way it worked was that employees moved funds from customers' existing accounts into newly-created ones without their knowledge or consent, regulators say. The CFPB described this practice as "widespread." Customers were being charged for insufficient funds or overdraft fees -- because there wasn't enough money in their original accounts.
Additionally, Wells Fargo employees also submitted applications for 565,443 credit card accounts without their customers' knowledge or consent. Roughly 14,000 of those accounts incurred over $400,000 in fees, including annual fees, interest charges and overdraft-protection fees.

That bad.

It's scary enough these days to do anything with money. If you use your credit card in a restaurant, the spiky-hair ink queen who thinks 20 percent isn't enough for her sterling service will steal your number and help herself to an extra tip. You use a card in the gas station and find out later some SOB* stuck a skimmer in there to steal your swipe. You sit down and write checks like me (call me Gramps!) and some schmuck steals them out of the mailbox. Now you can't even trust the bank to not screw you just so some low-level punk can get a bonus without having to work for it.

Wells Fargo has changed a lot since its early days a provider of financial and delivery services to the west. Its position in our Western lore has always made the organization seem brave and good. It has inspired endless novels, a 1937 movie, a 1951 movie, a 1956 TV show, and of course this:

But in the end, it's just another company.

Wells Fargo is not my bank, so at least this is one bullet I've dodged. But I've gotten warnings in the past from plenty of places I do business with, like Home Depot, who find their data compromised. I'm thinking about going back to those old Western days, puttin' mah money in a metal box, buryin' it somewhere in the back forty, and watchin' over it with mah shootin' iron. Try'n hack that, ya goldurn sidewindin' bushwhackers!


* Or, as CNN would call him, some SOB bitch.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Eyeing Niblets corn with bad intent.

So I was in the supermarket the other day, during the day, and the PA played "Baba O'Reilly" and "Aqualung."


I question their selections.

Nothing against these choices as great songs of RAWK. But they hardly seem to fit the genteel atmosphere of weekday morning supermarket browsing. For "Aqualung" in particular, any song that mentions snot is not really a good one for food sales. Never mind "eyeing little girls with bad intent."

I guess the rock musicians of 1971, when those songs were released, would be sad that their music was now being played in the supermarket, but perhaps gladdened by the fact that I at least find it inappropriate.

I know I complained about all this just a few months ago, but I must reiterate that classic rock is not always a good choice for retail ambiance just because it fits the demo of certain shoppers. Even here in the Hudson Valley, where everyone I know over the age of sixty claims to have been at Woodstock. It's like all the Frenchmen who claimed to have been in La RĂ©sistance after the war. If everyone who claimed to have been at Woodstock had been there, millions would have been at that stupid mudfest, and, cut off as they were from food, water, and sanitation, the fatalities would have been in the hundreds.

So even if our area boasts a higher-than-typical fan base for the songs of that era, they are still not a great choice for middle-class food service.

I got to wondering if, in 1971, supermarkets were playing music that came from 45 years earlier---which was 1926. Ha! I laughed. And yet, it was entirely possible. Albums of old standards remained popular---old standards like "Bye Bye Blackbird," "I'm Sitting on Top of the World," and "Baby Face," all hits in 1926. In fact, "Baby Face" became a disco hit in 1975. The ragtime music of Scott Joplin (d. 1917) became very popular thanks to the 1973 movie The Sting. And 1900s nostalgia was huge in the 1970s. Every ice cream parlor had stripes everywhere and those spindly wrought-iron chairs.

So you could hear 45-year-old songs in the market in 1971. The difference was that you wouldn't hear the original, scratchy, low-fi 1926 recordings. You might hear "Always," but perhaps as a Muzak instrumental, not by George Olsen.

But the main difference: Amazingly, none of the hit songs from 1926---not a single one!---featured the word snot.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nuts...for MURDER!

This program contains graphic images and mature subject matter. Viewer discretion is advised.

(EXT: Street scene. Police have roped off the area. CSI folk in lab coats and gloves kneel, looking at things. Detective Bacon, shaking his fuzzy little head, approaches the lead investigator, Peter "PB" Barilotto. Several investigators shake their heads in the background. Another death. It's a dirty job.)

Detective Bacon: Great way to start the day, eh, PB?

PB: You might say morning becomes electrified, Bacon. Have a look. 

Bacon: (rearing back) Ew!

PB: Yeah, never get used to it. 

Bacon: Another hit-and-run?

PB: Oh, he was hit, all right, but this squirrel was dead before he landed on the pavement. See that electrical wire up there?

Bacon: Why do these idiot kids think they can run across them and not get hurt?

PB: Well, most of the time it's fine---but not this time. Probably just accidental death from reckless behavior.

Bacon: Maybe---but there's an awful lot of squirrel gang activity around here. I'd like to talk to any witnesses. Especially the one who ran over the body. Sergeant?

Sergeant Twitch: Yes, detective.

Bacon: Anyone see all this... this...

Twitch: Ew.

Bacon: Yeah.

Twitch: We've talked to a few people. Said there was a bunch of squirrels hanging out up on that pole, laughing it up, drinking, you know the way they do. Then one runs across and flash! bam! Freezes up, drops, just as a Chevy was coming along.

Bacon: Any ID on that car?

Twitch: Yeah, light blue Malibu, partial plate.

Bacon: Good. Call it in and see if there're any hits. I'm off.

PB: Where to?

Bacon: Squirrel hunting.

(INT: Pool hall in a squirrel neighborhood. Sign on the window reads NUTS IN THE CORNER POCKET. Bacon enters and the room gets quiet.)

Punk: (holding pool cue) Well, well, well. I thought I smelled a rat. A pig rat.

Bacon: You Nut Zipper?

(Various squirrels gather around, holding pool cues. Punk, stretching to full height, looks down on Bacon.)

Punk: Who wants to know?

Bacon: Detective Bacon. I'm investigating a possible squirrelicide.

Punk: We don't talk to no cops here, rat. So unless you want to be fried Bacon....

(Bacon pulls the cue out of Punk's hand, snaps it over his head, jabs the guys aside him in the sternum with the pieces, swats a fourth guy with the base, bashes a fifth guy's face on the table felt, and flings a 3-ball off camera, from where an "ouch!" is heard.)

Bacon: (lifting Punk by the collar) Squirrel Nut Zipper. Now.

SNZ: (emerging from rear office) That'll do, boys. Leave him alone before he gets angry. (Large albino squirrel enters frame with Bacon) They call me SNZ.

Bacon: I'm Bacon. A squirrel got zapped doing a high wire act early this morning. Some of the locals tell me that a few of these boys were egging him on to cross the wire.

SNZ: Yeah, tragic, huh? Little Jimmy Crackcorn. You know kids and their silly stunts, detective. None of the boys meant any harm. They didn't really think he'd go across the wire. Did you, boys?

(Squirrels all say "No")

Bacon: So it was just a prank that turned bad, huh?

SNZ: If you want to file charges for trespassing, I'll make sure the fines are paid.

Bacon: Oh, there's payments to be made, all right. I'll be back, SNZ.

SNZ: Anytime you like, detective. Maybe we can... shoot a game.

(INT: Police HQ. Bacon at a table in the interrogation room with Kitty Li, an elderly Siamese.)

Kitty: I'm so sorry, detective. I-I just panicked. I know leaving the scene of an accident is illegal, but when I saw all those mean old squirrels...

Bacon: Now, ma'am, please calm down. The fact that you called the precinct before we matched your Malibu to the scene speaks in your favor. Tell me what you saw.

Kitty: Well, as I was driving to work I saw the squirrels running alongside the traffic from post to post, you know? I was hitting lights all the way, so I could see them in the sunrise. Then I saw them start to tussle with one little fellow up ahead. He also crossed on a wire, but he went over the traffic, not alongside it. Just as he reached the transformer on my side there was flash of light, and I closed my eyes and screamed...and then I ran him over.

Bacon: Is this the squirrel you hit? (holds up photo)

Kitty: That's him. Ew.

Bacon: I know.

Kitty: And there was one other fellow I saw, standing near the alley. Dirty old coat, muddy yellow face...

Bacon: A canary?

Kitty: How'd you know?

Bacon: Let's just say... a little bird told me.

(EXT: Alleyway, nighttime. Bacon and Stinky Peep, dressed in his dingy trench coat)

Peep: You'll never get it to stick, you know.

Bacon: (handing over a few bills, folded) Maybe. You're sure this is on the level?

Peep: Yeah, yeah. Crackcorn had made contact with the gang across town, you know, the Westies.

Bacon: Meanest little white dogs I know.

Peep: He was gonna help them take over the squirrels' territory. He went to them offering dates, transactions, contacts, everything. Drugs, gambling, prostitution. Jimmy knew where all the nuts were buried, as they say. The Westies were gonna pay off for him big-time. But somehow Squirrel Nut Zipper finds out about the deal, so they chase him to where they knew there was a fault in the line. Short circuit; no more Jimmy.

Bacon: And if I talk to the Westies, they'd back this up?

Peep: If you ask the right way. But you didn't hear nothin' from me.

Bacon: (handing over some more cash) Never do, Stinky Peep.

(INT: Police station. Bacon and the Chief in the Chief's office.)

Chief: Peep's right, Bacon. We have no proof that there even is a crime, let alone murder.

Bacon: I know. But I have a little idea of my own, if the DA's office thinks it'll work.

Chief: You'll have to convince me first.

Bacon: First I get Peep to spread some news that's not quite kosher...

(EXT: Power line above street. Punk, whose name is Punk, is on the wire facing SNZ and the gang. He is terrified.)

SNZ: So, we hear you asked the Westies to pick up Jimmy's deal, Punk.

Punk: Y-you got this wrong, SNZ. I ain't no turncoat, honest!

SNZ: Time for you to take a little walk across the wire, just like Jimmy.

Punk: No, no, boss! Please!

SNZ: It's very simple, Punk. You just get to that transformer and back alive, and we let you go. Heh heh heh.

Gang: Heh heh heh.

Punk: No way! I helped strip that wire myself! There's no way to touch the transformer from the wire without making a short circuit!

SNZ: Well, then, I guess we won't wait too long for you on the return trip. Now get out there or we'll come up with something even worse for you!

(Floodlights burst on the area; squirrels scream, start to run, but police swarm them from every side. SNZ frowns as he gets cuffed.)

(EXT: On the ground, Chief is on the cell phone; Bacon nearby)

Chief: Good, good. That's all we need. Great job. (clicks off) Bacon, they got it all on video. This gang is done for. And I have a feeling Punk is gonna sing like a canary.

Bacon: Speaking of which, it's gonna cost us a bonus to pay off Peep, who hates to give out phony information, but it'll be worth it.

Chief: Agreed. This is a real feather in your cap, Bacon.

Bacon: Yeah. A canary feather.

(laughs all around)


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Devil's radio.

I learned the other day that Pope Francis is waging a war on gossip. "Gossip is the terrorism of words," the Holy Father said last July, emphasizing a message he has expounded throughout the year. 

“Whoever gossips is a terrorist,” Francis said in February. “He is a terrorist in his own community. It’s as if his words were a bomb that he tosses against this one or that one, and then walks away. This destroys! Whoever does this destroys, like a bomb, and then walks away.”

I think the pope is overstating the case somewhat---in many cases gossip causes little harm, but there's no such thing as "little terrorism," just unsuccessful terrorism. But there is no question that gossip ruins lives, and poisons the practitioner as well as the listener and the victim.

Around these parts, the public schools are starting up again today, so it seems like as good a time as any to mention that as a public service announcement. Gossip is a menace; it is a vice that has won the currency of a virtue.

I've been the victim of gossip, some true, some false, all exaggerated. I've also gossiped, usually convincing myself that there was a good and noble reason: I was giving a warning, I was eliciting sympathy for the subject, I was spreading humor and bonhomie, I was sharing a confidence with the person to whom I gossiped. I never asked myself if the subject of the gossip would have wanted me telling the secret. What fun would that be?

(Once I spent a week working for a gossip magazine. You know how tawdry and miserable you'd expect a place like that to be? Double it. Now annihilate any ideas of celeb glamour. You're getting closer.)

I have tried to tame my tongue, with mixed success. As St. James writes in his epistle: "Mankind can tame, and has long since learned to tame, every kind of beast and bird, of creeping things and all else; but no human being has ever found out how to tame the tongue; a pest that is never allayed, all deadly poison." It is a sin against the Sixth Commandment, for character assassination is killing part of the man.

Sometimes it's done specifically for the ruin of the victim, as on soap operas, but I would have to say it's most often done to ingratiate one's self with the person to whom one is gossiping. C.S. Lewis believed that one of the most subtle and compelling of the temptations was the desire to be in the secret inner circle. Some inner circles of any society---schools, offices, bureaucracies, lodges, churches, armies, anything---may admit one for one's family, or sense of humor, or looks, or wealth, but all of them will consider admission to someone known to be a reliable source of valuable information. The gossip may not be loved, but he may be needed. Even if the information is not reliable, the gossip may be popular for his vicious attacks on those deemed socially unacceptable to the inner circle.

So there are a lot of reasons why one may want to be a gossip. Probably the best practical advice I ever heard of regarding gossip in the office is that one should listen to it but never spread it. This way one knows what's going on but does not get a rep as untrustworthy. But is it worth it to be immersed in any corrupting influence?

Remember, as George Harrison sang on his last great album:
I heard it in the night, words that thoughtless speak
Like vultures swooping down below on the devil's radio
I hear it through the day, airwaves gettin' filled
With gossip broadcast to and fro on the devil's radio
Change the station.